The Government has a duty to explain the shortage of Anti Retroviral Drugs in our hospitals.
Reports are now emerging from various parts of the country that supplies have actually run out. Some patients from rural area have been travelling to Lusaka and other urban towns to secure supplies.
The panic among patients is understandable. In the absence of an explanation the issue is left to speculation, rumour and serious anxiety.
In January this year the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ) demanded for a statement from the government on the reported shortage of Anti-retroviral medicine (ARVs) in the country.
At the same time the CCZ appealed to donors withholding funds for the health sector to reconsider their stand, because the lives of patients were at stake.
The appeal followed reports that ARVs were being rationed because there was a shortage in the country.
CCZ general secretary Suzanne Matale was quoted at the time as saying that : “this rationing is as a result of the apparent critical short supply of ARVS in the country. We have been informed by our members who are on our HIV and AIDS programmes that people who are on anti retroviral therapy (ART) are now being given 2 weeks supply of ARVs instead of their usual 3 months’ supply.”
The Council called for a comprehensive statement from the Ministry of Health and Government on the true picture of the supply of ARVS in the country to include an explanation as to why the country was experiencing these shortages when the government knew how much drug supply the country requires.
Matale demanded that a concrete time frame should be given as to when the supplies would be normalized. She said People must be adequately informed and adequately prepared for eventualities.
The Council also made a passionate request to funding partners, especially those who were withholding funds, to seriously consider releasing funds for ARVs so as to avert the impending loss of lives in Zambia as this was a matter of life and death.
The same situation has arisen, if not worse this time.
The concern of the church is now becoming apparent as the country is facing a much deeper shortage affecting both rural and urban areas giving rise to rationing which will be short-lived. A few months later there is a shortage which seems more serious and deeper affecting most urban and rural clinics.
It will be recalled that the Global Fund suspended funding to Zambia in 2010 due to serious issues of financial impropriety resulting in stock-outs and drug rationing.
Donor confidence was seriously eroded by the corruption allegation, which confidence is slowly being redeemed.
It is therefore sad that again the relevant officials are seen to be reneging on their responsibility of ensuring a steady supply of drugs.
There is a great danger in intermittent supply because patients will develop resistance which will render the entire medication regime a nullity.
We hope the Government can explain the current situation and ensure that future supplies are managed professionally to ensure that stock-outs do not occur. This is not impossible, all it requires is more serious and efficient management.